I spoke in church on Father’s Day this year, and so did my husband. With his permission, I’m reprinting (i.e. reconstructing from his notes) his talk here.
In a move that would make my wife proud, I turned to the blogosphere to look for a consensus on the rewards and challenges of being a father.
The hardest things about being a father:
- Knowing your wife is a better parent than you.
- Finding the time to give everyone the attention they deserve.
- Being afraid you’re doing it “wrong.”
- Worrying about the temporal needs of the family.
- Worrying about the spiritual needs of the family.
The best things about being a father:
- That huge smile and laughter as I come in the door from a long day at work.
- The instant forgiveness from a child after sending him to his room.
- The funny things kids say (see here, here and here).
- Just spending time together, doing thins I love doing as a kid, like playing with Legos, but can’t really get away with as an adult.
But being a father isn’t all fun in games. In April General Conference in 2004, Elder L. Tom Perry outlined three roles for fathers, and they’re a tall order.
1. The father is the head in his family.
“Fatherhood is leadership, the most important kind of leadership. It has always been so; it always will be so. Father, with the assistance and counsel and encouragement of your eternal companion, you preside in the home. It is not a matter of whether you are most worthy or best qualified, but it is a matter of [divine] appointment.”
Your leadership in the home must include leading in family worship.
“You preside at the meal table, at family prayer. You preside at family home evening; and as guided by the Spirit of the Lord, you see that your children are taught correct principles. It is your place to give direction relating to all of family life.
“You give father’s blessings. You take an active part in establishing family rules and discipline. As a leader in your home you plan and sacrifice to achieve the blessing of a unified and happy family. To do all of this requires that you live a family-centered life.”
President Joseph F. Smith counseled brethren to lead their families in a weekly Family Home Evening. “If the Saints obey this counsel,” he said, “we promise that great blessings will result. Love at home and obedience to parents will increase. Faith will be developed in the hearts of the youth of Israel and they will gain power to combat the evil influences and temptations which beset them.”
Along with this role, I want to say just a little about discipline. President Harold B. Lee said, “A father may have to discipline his child, but he should never do it in anger. He must show forth an increase of love thereafter, lest that one so reproved were to esteem him to be an enemy (see D&C 121:43). The Lord forbid the feeling of a child that his mother or father is an enemy.”
This ties into Elder Perry’s next role for fathers:
2. The father is a teacher.
Elder Perry’s talk led me to a pamphlet first put out by the church in 1973 called “Father, Consider Your Ways.” Even though it’s almost 40 years old now, the advice still rings true today. On this role, the pamphlet said:
It must be emphasized that as a father, you are always teaching. For good or ill your family learns your ways, your beliefs, your heart, your ideas, your concerns. Your children may or may not choose to follow you, but the example you give is the greatest light you hold before your children, and you are accountable for that light.
At one time a young father acted somewhat unkindly to his wife. Three days later this same man saw his three-year-old daughter use his very words in acting unkindly to her mother. The man was sobered and came to ask himself this question, “Do I love my children and family enough to repent, to change my life for their welfare?”
We are also supposed to help children recognize promptings of the spirit. I found a good list of a few ways to do this (source missing, sorry!):
- Help them learn to pray
- Keep the peace
- Teach the gospel at their level
- Lead them in wholesome family activities
- Talk to them at every opportunity
- Listen for spiritual promptings yourself
Finally for Elder Perry’s roles:
3. The father is the temporal provider.
Elder Perry strongly cautioned against mothers working for a second income (i.e. one that wasn’t necessary to provide the basic needs in life):
President Ezra Taft Benson expressed it clearly: “The Lord has charged men with the responsibility to provide for their families in such a way that the wife is allowed to fulfill her role as mother in the home. … Sometimes the mother works outside of the home at the encouragement, or even insistence, of her husband … [for the] convenience[s] that the extra income can buy. Not only will the family suffer in such instances, brethren, but your own spiritual growth and progression will be hampered.”
If I can be so bold, there’s one more fatherly role I’d add to Elder Perry’s list:
4. The father is a husband.
“Father, Consider Your Ways” points out:
The obligations, the burdens, the responsibility of being a proper father may seem overwhelming. Fortunately, you are not required to preside and judge and act without counsel, without assistance. You have a wife—a companion, a counselor, a partner, a helpmeet, a friend.
Is she one with you? Do you thank the Lord daily for her? Do you keep the covenants you made with her and with the Lord in the temple? Do you always strive to keep your thoughts and words and actions pure? Do you realize that when you offend her in any way it is like offending yourself, since you are one?
Does she know of your love for her? Is your relationship one of continual courtship? Do you regularly spend time together—alone, where your expression and actions reassure her of your appreciation and reliance on her companionship? Do you exercise righteous leadership with her?
Do you always keep sight of your marriage goal, the creation of an eternal unit bound together by love and by the power and ordinances of the priesthood?
President Gordon B. Hinckley taught, “A good marriage requires time. It requires effort. You have to work at it. You have to cultivate it. You have to forgive and forget. You have to be absolutely loyal to one another.”
Finally, President Howard W. Hunger said, “Indeed, one of the greatest things a father can do for his children is to love their mother.”